Just Be Myself
I arrived in AA in 1989, frightened and lonely. As a young gay man, I wasn’t sure how I would be received, so I attended meetings for LGBTQ members (referred to at the time as Gay & Lesbian groups).
Within a few months, I began branching out to other meetings, timidly at first. Unknown to me, the General Service Conference had approved the pamphlet “A.A. and the Gay/Lesbian Alcoholic” just a few weeks before I got sober. The pamphlet began showing up in meetings in the fall of that year.
As I branched out beyond the Gay & Lesbian groups, I noticed that pamphlet in the literature racks of the meetings I was trying out, and whenever I saw it, I let out a sigh of relief. The presence of that pamphlet at mainstream meetings made me feel welcome and relieved my fear.
I didn’t know anything about the service structure or the Conference at that time, but I know today that the Conference had done a great service to me and my fellow LGBTQ members and prospects by developing that pamphlet. It’s the type of pamphlet I refer to today as a Third Tradition pamphlet. Its purpose is to reinforce our message that the only requirement for membership is a desire to stop drinking. It’s a means of extending a welcoming hand to alcoholics who are wary about how they may be received in AA.
As I made my way through the Steps and got involved in service, my experience in AA healed the shame that I had long carried about being gay. I was welcomed with open arms wherever I went in AA. I had the same opportunities as any other member, and I began to make my way into the service structure. The old-timers at my group encouraged me to become our group’s general service representative (GSR).
I had recently started dating a guy in AA who was involved in general service, and that made serving as a GSR look even more attractive to me. Our relationship deepened in tandem with our involvement in service. We registered our domestic partnership with the state of California in 2005, while he was serving as our area delegate. We married a few years later while I was serving as alternate delegate and I went on to serve as our area delegate the following term. The service position of area delegate is both joyful and exhausting and having a partner who has been through the experience and who knows what I’m going through can really help. Sometimes boy meets boy on AA campus, and things turn out pretty well!
In 2014, I was elected Pacific Regional Trustee and I was both elated and terrified. One of my concerns was about how open I should be about my sexual orientation as I carried out my service. I knew I would be visiting all the areas in the region and would likely be invited to share my personal recovery story on many visits. Since ours is a program of rigorous honesty, I really don’t know how to tell my story without speaking openly about sneaking into gay bars when I was underaged, about my broken-hearted pursuit of various guys when I was drinking, about the men and women in the Gay & Lesbian groups who carried the message to me and about the power of the Steps to remove our defects and make possible a true partnership with another human being—in my case, a relationship with another man.
In my new role as trustee, however, I had some fear that as I made my way around the region, I might not always be met with the same acceptance that I had experienced in meetings in Southern California. So I talked with my sponsor about it and he encouraged me to just be myself.
My first event was in a state that I regarded as one of the most culturally conservative in the region. When I shared who I am with openness and honesty, I knew instantly that being fully out was absolutely the right choice. At that event, I had an experience that would repeat itself frequently as I traveled around the region. LGBTQ members came up to me and thanked me, some with tears in their eyes, for sharing openly as a gay man. Sometimes I would be told in a whisper, “I can’t be out in AA because of where I live, but your story gives me hope that everything will be OK.” It gave me one of the greatest feelings I experienced in AA— the feeling of being useful.
And then an amazing thing happened. At my first Conference as a trustee, the Conference approved a recommendation to update the pamphlet, “A.A. and the Gay/Lesbian Alcoholic.” I was assigned to the trustees’ literature committee and was given the gift of being part of the subcommittee that worked on the pamphlet revision. Reading the new stories that were sent in filled me with gratitude. The submissions were deeply moving and the members who sent in their stories did such a great job of carrying the AA message. Our efforts ultimately resulted in the revised pamphlet, titled “LGBTQ Alcoholics in A.A.,” following the 2018 Conference, which was my last Conference as trustee.
My AA experience had come full circle. As a frightened new member in 1989, I was made to feel welcome by the original “Gay & Lesbian” pamphlet and through my participation in service I got to have a hand in developing a pamphlet that I hope will be useful in extending the hand of AA to the suffering alcoholic today.
I think of a young, LGBTQ drunk in a small town somewhere, perhaps where there are no LGBTQ meetings. I picture that person doing a web search on “Alcoholics Anonymous LGBTQ” and being able to read our updated pamphlet at aa.org. Or, perhaps that prospective member stumbles into a meeting where the literature person has included the pamphlet in the literature rack to welcome them.
I imagine that seemingly hopeless drunk reading that pamphlet and the wonderful stories in it, identifying with the experiences that our members have shared, and receiving the message of hope. And for that, I’m so very grateful.
For more stories from gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender AA members, read Sober & Out, available in the AA Grapevine Store.